Monday, 22 June 2015

Exhibition in Manchester: Anthony Burgess and Napoleon

A return visit to the International Anthony Burgess Centre in Manchester to look at their exhibition about Burgess and Napoleon. Included in the exhibition are five prints by Jean Charles Pellerin (1756-1836), of various episodes in Napoleon's life.

Entry of Napoleon into Grenoble

Apparently these hung in Burgess's home in Italy in the 1970's, perhaps a result of the influence of his Italian wife, to whom Napoleon Symphony was dedicated:

"a Buonapartista, who, in her extreme youth, could never understand why the British had named a great railway terminus after a military defeat."

Battle of Esling - Death of Montebello

Also there is the letter to Burgess from Stanley Kubrick, dated June 15th 1972,

informing Burgess that his script was not suitable for the film about Napoleon that Kubrick still planned to make.

"I shall start off by saying that I really don't know how to write this letter, and that it is a task which is as awful for me to perform as it may be for you to read."
Debarkation of Napoleon (from Elba)

In the event Napoleon Symphony, published two years after the letter, was also dedicated, perhaps in a rather backhanded, ironic way to Kubrick as well as to Burgess's wife: Also to Stanley J. Kubrick, maestro di color...".


Napoleon at the Siege of Toulon

As well as a list of some of the sources Burgess used to research his novel, there is a quotation, new to me, written prior to writing it:

My preparatory reading for the novel has taught me that I had really been bludgeoned by the ruling classes into hating Boney, since the common man saw him as a liberator. So he was, of course, for a time. The novelist's attitude to him will only make itself apparent in the course of writing the novel. The question I must ask myself now is: is the novel to be comic or tragic?I do not see how it can be tragic: what was the flaw, where was the sin? He took the Revolution, purged of its extreme features, to countries that needed it. He wanted a united Europe. England having chopped down her forests and exhausted her iron to defeat him, is now entering the Napoleonic dream. It is, in a way, comic, but not meant for laughs. I suppose my Napoleon novel will have to be comic in that way too.
Battle of Rivoli

Not in the exhibition, and this is not intended as a criticism, is the file held by the Anthony Burgess Centre of contemporary reviews of Napoleon Symphony. Some time I intend to write about this and my own reaction to what I think is an underrated novel, albeit one that is far from complimentary about its hero.

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